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Over the weekend, I read two contrasting approaches to coronavirus, going from the sublime to the ridiculous.

El Salvador

This is the latest message from the government in El Salvador about coronavirus. It advocates exercise, achieving a normal weight, eating properly and getting enough sleep:

It is sublime. If only other governments had advocated the same thing over the past 22 months. Then again, there’s no Big Pharma involvement, so this never could have happened in the West.

France

Now we move to the ridiculous.

Last summer, the French government mandated the vaccine passport, popularly called le pass sanitaire, when in reality it is le pass vaccinale.

In August 2021, the Minister for Work, Elisabeth Borne, said that anyone refusing to get a vaccine passport would be denied his/her salary or unemployment benefit. Someone replied to this tweet with a quote from February 2021 in which Borne said that, as a woman of the Left, fighting for social justice and equal opportunity were her two biggest objectives in life. Oh, the irony:

Initially, at least, vaccine passports were required even to go into a supermarket.

Here’s a chap at Carrefour who could not get past the security guard on August 17 at Noisy le Grand, just outside of Paris:

Two more videos appeared on August 18. One was in the city of Pau in the south west of France. Police prevented angry shoppers from entering Leclerc:

The second confrontation took place at an Auchan in Marseille. Shoppers chanted ‘Liberté, liberté’:

I don’t know what happened after that, but I haven’t heard or seen any more about people being prevented from entering a supermarket.

I did see videos with police checking people sitting outdoors at cafés and bars for vax passport status.

Fast forwarding to January 2, 2022, Prime Minister Jean Castex said that food and drink can only be taken in bars and cafés sitting down. A bit like Wales and Scotland, then:

That same day, the education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, explained that every school would have a list of students showing their vaccination status, thereby violating the principle of privacy with regard to personal health records — a slippery slope:

The following day, the president of France’s parliament, Richard Ferrand, got coronavirus. No one was allowed to ask questions, though, because it wasn’t anyone’s business. Circulez, il n’y a rien a voir. Keep moving, nothing to see here:

Incidentally, no vax passport is required in France’s parliament. Typical:

On January 4, French president Emmanuel Macron said that he wanted to ‘p— off’ as many unvaccinated as possible. This means that the unvaccinated will not be able to go to sports fixtures, the cinema — or even restaurants, bars and cafés.

Contrast that with what he said on December 15, 2021: ‘With some things I’ve said, I’ve hurt people. I won’t do it again’:

There is even an older statement from Macron from April 29, 2021, in which he pledged there would never be a mandatory vax passport in France:

Jean Castex refused to comment on Macron’s pronouncement about p—ing off the unvaccinated:

Meanwhile, an anti-vax passport petition circulated online. It had over 1.2 million signatures as of January 5. The initiator of the petition was not allowed to present it to parliament. Police restrained him:

France’s senate will be voting on further vax passport measures this week, postponed from last week:

Constitutionalists say that the vax passport measures are unconstitutional:

Here is a roadside hoarding (billboard) critical of Macron’s vaccination policies:

The vaccine passport mandate was supposed to end on November 16, 2021. Yet, it is still in place.

On Saturday, January 8, many thousands of French citizens took to the streets to protest.

This was the scene in Aix-en-Provence:

Paris had the largest demonstration, despite the rain:

Here’s another view:

Of course, the media, in this case BFMTV, reported ‘only a few thousand’ protesters. They would, wouldn’t they?

On Monday, January 10, a French physician who works in ER called for the abolition of vaccine passports and urged the government to focus on treating the sick — ‘Revenons au basique‘, or ‘Back to basics’:

Just before Christmas, a general practitioners’ union pledged their support for the unvaccinated, a clear refutation of Macron’s policy:

France’s talk radio station, RMC, discussed the unvaccinated on Monday. Here’s the segment from Les Grandes Gueules [The Big Mouths], for any interested Francophones.

A general practitioner who is a regular guest on the show said that anyone spreading ‘disinformation’ should be put in prison. Unbelievable:

One of the panellists complained about the constant testing of schoolchildren, which she thought was a waste of time and money:

Some time ago, when waffling on about the necessity for constitutional reform, Macron pledged that any petition with more than 1 million signatures would go to a referendum in order to give the French people a voice. As the anti-vax passport petition has 1.2 million signatures, will Macron prove good on his word?

Even during an election year, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Macron’s voters are pro-vaccine and pro-vaccine passport people. Sadly, I think he will win another five-year mandate in May 2022.

It is safe to say that the two most controversial British Prime Ministers of living memory are Margaret Thatcher (Conservative) and Tony Blair (Labour).

Baroness Thatcher has gone to her rest, so we are left with Tony Blair.

Blair’s knighthood of the Most Noble Order of the Garter made the news at the end of 2021. On Saturday, January 1, 2022, The Guardian reported (emphases mine below):

Appointments to this ceremonial order are made without prime ministerial advice and are usually announced on St George’s Day, on 23 April. Founded in 1348 by Edward III, it is the oldest and most senior British Order of Chivalry and a recognition of significant public service. Sir John Major [Conservative], Blair’s predecessor, was the last to receive the honour.

The monarch makes this appointment, supposedly independently, but one wonders.

Only a year ago, the media reported that the Queen had refused to appoint him to the Garter. Incidentally, Blair has been sticking his nose in everywhere, especially Brexit. From this, we can deduce that he dislikes the average Briton:

Over the weekend, Angus Scott launched a petition on Change.org to have Blair’s knighthood rescinded. By Tuesday, January 4, the petition had 500,000 signatures. Unfortunately, as the petition was not created on the parliamentary website, it is likely to be ignored. More importantly, as this appointment is the Queen’s, Parliament cannot do anything about it.

The petition reads:

Tony Blair caused irreparable damage to both the constitution of the United Kingdom and to the very fabric of the nation’s society. He was personally responsible for causing the death of countless innocent, civilian lives and servicemen in various conflicts. For this alone he should be held accountable for war crimes.

The Government rejected the petition:

The aforementioned Guardian article says that the Iraq war is still an issue with many members of the public. Speaker of the House Sir Lindsay Hoyle stepped in to defend his fellow Labourite. Not only that, he poured more oil on the flames by saying that every Prime Minister should be knighted, by virtue of their position. No, just no:

Sir Tony, rather than Sir Anthony, as he is now known, has been made a Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, 14 years after leaving Downing Street. But the honour has been criticised by Blair’s political opponents and those who argue the legacy of his invasion of Iraq in 2003 makes him unsuitable.

Speaking on Saturday morning Hoyle said he felt the honour, the oldest and most senior British order of chivalry, was “a fitting tribute” for a former prime minister, although he felt it was not a political decision.

“Whatever people might think, it is one of the toughest jobs in the world,” the Speaker said, “and I think it is respectful and it is the right thing to do, whether it is Sir David Cameron. They should all be offered that knighthood when they finish as prime minister.”

Hoyle was talking to Today programme presenter Martha Kearney on BBC Radio 4 when he was asked if he believed all recent former prime ministers should now be knighted.

“If you have been prime minister of this country, I do believe the country should recognise the service given. Absolutely. You finish in the office and when you’ve finished it is the respect that we give to those prime ministers,” he replied.

I’m going off Lindsay Hoyle rather rapidly.

Other new appointees to the Garter include Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and to the former Labour cabinet member Lady Amos, the first black person to be honoured this way.

On Tuesday, January 4, The Guardian reported that Sir Keir Starmer, Labour Party leader, defended the knighthood on Good Morning Britain:

The Labour leader said Blair was a worthy recipient of the Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, received in the new year honour’s list.

“I don’t think it’s thorny at all. I think he deserves the honour. Obviously I respect the fact that people have different views,” Starmer told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

“I understand there are strong views on the Iraq war. There were back at the time and there still are, but that does not detract from the fact that Tony Blair was a very successful prime minister of this country and made a huge difference to the lives of millions of people in this country.”

Blair, who led Labour to three election victories, was prime minister during the allied military invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

On Monday, January 3, Christine Hamilton, whose husband was a Conservative MP then a member of the Welsh Senedd (‘Senate’, Assembly), told Dan Wootton of GB News that there are reasons why Blair should not receive this honour: Iraq, Afghanistan, Brexit. She surmises that if Prince Philip were still alive, this appointment never would have happened:

Several years ago, The Telegraph had an article entitled ‘Tony Blair believed God wanted him to go to war to fight evil, claims his mentor’. Unfortunately, it has since been withdrawn from their website.

Another Telegraph gem that no longer exists is the former Conservative MP Norman Tebbit’s blog post, ‘Gordon Brown is not as vain or greedy as Tony Blair but he is in deep denial and must be removed from office’.

Money, money, money

Blair watchers know that he loves his money.

Unfortunately, this Telegraph article is also gone: ‘Tony Blair earned £680,000 for his foundation for 50 hours’ work’. That was about The Tony Blair Faith Foundation. You could not make this up.

In March 2010, the Daily Mail reported that Tony Blair needed £5 million a year just to get by. How many properties did he own by then? Six? How many properties does he own now? Eight?

The Mail says:

Tony Blair has told friends he needs to earn at least £5million a year just to break even.

The former prime minister has been heavily criticised for cashing in on his contacts for personal gain and is thought to have made around £20million since leaving office.

But last night his former election agent John Burton claimed Mr Blair needed the astonishing annual income – and possibly much more – to pay spiralling wage bills at his growing list of companies and charities.

The revelation about his finances came as the former premier returned to the political fray with a lukewarm televised endorsement of Gordon Brown.

Mr Burton, one of Mr Blair’s most loyal political friends, said: ‘What I asked him was, you know he gets this criticism about what he earns. I said how many people do you employ? And he said 130.

‘I mean it was 25 about two years ago and he said to me I have got to earn £5million a year to pay the wages, so God knows what he has got to earn now to pay the wages.’

2010 saw the Conservatives regain Government in May thanks to a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. David Cameron, mentioned below, became Prime Minister. The Mail‘s article appeared during the campaign:

The former prime minister was making a controversial intervention in the election campaign yesterday as he addressed the Labour Club in his old constituency.

It followed a warning from a former defence minister that his appearance could trigger a public backlash against Labour from those angry over the Iraq War as well as Mr Blair’s business dealings.

Sporting a bizarre orange tan, Mr Blair spoke in support of his long-time rival Gordon Brown and attacked the ‘ vacuous’ Tories – but stopped short of personally criticising David Cameron.

The Tories were relaxed about the appearance, with Mr Cameron taking a dig at the former premier’s lecture circuit earnings, joking: ‘It is nice to see him making a speech that no one is paying for.’

Security was tight as Iraq War protesters demonstrated outside the Trimdon Labour Club, in the Sedgefield constituency in County Durham …

But many senior Labour figures fear his involvement could harm the party. Chief among critics was former defence minister Peter Kilfoyle, who warned that Mr Blair was now a ‘negative factor’.

He said: He evokes a strong antagonism, particularly because of the Iraq War, but not only that.

Also the kind of things going on with allegedly Blairite former ministers and their apparently venal approach to life. He epitomises everything people think is wrong about New Labour.

It is a mistake by the so-called strategists. It may seem a good idea to them, but to many people at the grassroots level it is not.’

Kilfoyle was not wrong.

On May 25, 2010, a few weeks after David Cameron became PM, The Telegraph reported, ‘Tony Blair hired by US billionaire Vinod Khosla for climate change advice’. What does Tony Blair know about climate change?

The billionaire thought Blair was an expert, apparently:

The agreement will see Tony Blair Associates give strategic advice to Khosla Ventures, a venture capital firm that invests in companies pursuing green technologies. Mr Khosla, who made his fortune as co-founder of computing giant Sun Microsystems, is hoping that Mr Blair’s decade on the global stage helps unlock doors for the companies that California-based Khosla Ventures invests in

Mr Khosla said that “with Tony’s advice and influence’ we will create opportunities for entrepreneurs and innovators to devise practical solutions that can solve today’s most pressing problems.”

It wasn’t disclosed how much Mr Blair will be paid for the advice he gives to Khosla. He already has a £2m lobbying post with JP Morgan Chase and a £500,000 job with Zurich Financial.

Mr Blair also charges tens of thousands of pounds for public speaking, received a £4.5m advance for his memoirs and set up Tony Blair Associates to advise foreign countries including Kuwait. In total, he is estimated to have earned at least £15 million since leaving office two and a half years ago.

Good grief.

Let’s go back to Blair’s properties. Most of them are stately homes or properties out of the reach of most people in the UK.

Less than a year after Blair left office as Prime Minister, he was somehow able to buy his sixth property. How can that happen on a PM’s salary?

On May 4, 2008, the Mail reported (and included must-see photos):

Tony and Cherie Blair have added a £4million stately home once owned by Sir John Gielgud to their property portfolio.

The seven-bedroom mansion in Buckinghamshire is a few miles from Chequers, the prime ministerial retreat the Blairs gave up to Gordon Brown when he took over at No 10.

Mrs Blair was said to have longed for another historic home in the same area.

A source said: “It ticked all of Cherie’s boxes. She wanted a small stately home within a 20-mile radius of Chequers.”

The Grade I listed South Pavilion, in Wotton Underwood, brings to six the number of properties the couple now own.

They have two houses in London, two flats in Bristol and Mr Blair’s former constituency home in Durham

Since he left office last June Mr Blair is estimated to have signed deals worth nearly £10million.

Last month the former Prime Minister reportedly earned up to £240,000 for making a 90-minute speech to businessmen in Spain.

Theoretically Mr Blair could have written a cheque for £4million to buy the property outright, but it seems more likely the couple have taken out another mortgage.

If so it would double their mortgage debt to around £8million and push their payments to more than £30,000 a month, experts estimate.

Iraq War: Dr David Kelly’s death and apologies

On June 26, 2010, the Mail alleged a cover up in the death of Dr David Kelly, said to have been unmasked as the source of the claim that the Blair government had ‘sexed up’ claims for a war in Iraq. Dr Kelly’s case is still a mystery.

The Mail article says, in part:

The official story of Dr David Kelly is that he took his own life in an Oxfordshire wood by overdosing on painkillers and cutting his left wrist with a pruning knife …

A subsequent official inquiry led by Lord Hutton into the circumstances leading to the death came to the unequivocal conclusion that Kelly committed suicide.

Yet suspicions of foul play still hang heavy over the death of the weapons expert whose body was found seven years ago next month in one of the most notorious episodes of Tony Blair’s premiership.

Many believe the truth about the manner of Dr Kelly’s death has never been established properly. Some even fear that the 59-year-old, the world’s leading expert in biological and chemical weapons, was murdered

The blanket of secrecy thrown over the case by the last Labour Government has only fuelled the sense of mystery.

In January this year, it emerged that unpublished medical and scientific records relating to Dr Kelly’s death – including the post-mortem report and photographs of his body – had been secretly classified so as not to be made public for 70 years.

Lord Hutton, who had been appointed by Blair, was responsible for this extraordinary gagging order, yet its legal basis has baffled experts accustomed to such matters.

Against this shadowy background, we have conducted a rigorous and thorough investigation into the mystery that surrounds the death of David Kelly. And our investigation has turned up evidence which raises still more disturbing questions.

Our new revelations include the ambiguous nature of the wording on Dr Kelly’s death certificate; the existence of an anonymous letter which says his colleagues were warned to stay away from his funeral; and an extraordinary claim that the wallpaper at Dr Kelly’s home was stripped by police in the hours after he was reported missing – but before his body was found.

Until now, details of Dr Kelly’s death certificate have never been made public.

But the certificate was obtained by a group of leading doctors who have spent almost seven years investigating the case; doctors who believe it is medically implausible that he died in the manner Hutton concluded and are alarmed at the unorthodox way the death certificate was completed.

Near the top of all British death certificates is a box headed ‘Date and place of death’, in which a doctor or coroner should declare the exact location of a death, if it has been established.

Dr Kelly’s certificate gives his date of death as July 18, 2003. It then states in reference to place of death: ‘Found dead at Harrowdown Hill, Longworth, Oxon’.

Why was the word ‘found’ used? Why was the crucial question of ‘place of death’ not answered? The death certificate should be precise about the time, cause and location of death.

The doctors who have investigated the case believe the failure to answer this question leaves open the possibility that Dr Kelly died somewhere other than Harrowdown Hill, the wood where his body was discovered. If this was the case, they are concerned the law may have been subverted over Dr Kelly’s death

A full coroner’s inquest, which, by law, must be held following any sudden, unexpected or violent death, would have addressed these discrepancies.

But no full inquest was ever held.

Oxfordshire Coroner Nicholas Gardiner opened an inquest on July 21. But on August 13 the then Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer, Tony Blair’s former flatmate, ordered it to be adjourned indefinitely.

Falconer used an obscure law to suspend proceedings, and for the first time in English legal history he replaced an inquest with a non-statutory public inquiry to examine a single death, seemingly without any public explanation.

On October 24, 2015, The Telegraph reported that Blair gave an interview to CNN in which he partially apologised for the war in Iraq:

Tony Blair has apologised for some of the mistakes that were made during the Iraq War, and says he recognises “elements of truth” behind opinion that the invasion caused the rise of Isil.

In a candid interview with CNN, the former prime minister was challenged by US political broadcaster Fareed Zakar who accused Blair of being George Bush’s ‘poodle’ over the conflict.

During the exchange, which will air on CNN Europe at 11am and 7pm on Sunday, Mr Blair says: “I apologise for the fact that the intelligence was wrong. I also apologise, by the way, for some of the mistakes in planning and certainly, our mistake in our understanding of what would happen once you removed the regime. But I find it hard to apologise for removing Saddam.”

When asked whether he thought the invasion led to the rise of Isil, he says: “I think there are elements of truth in that. Of course you can’t say those of us who removed Saddam in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation in 2015.”

… Blair’s acknowledgement of responsibility, if not apology, for the rise of Islamic extremism, is aptly timed. 

In 2004, he told MPs: “I will not apologise for the conflict. I believe it was right” and in 2007, he repeated this sentiment, saying: “I don’t think we should be apologising at all for what we are doing in Iraq.”

Last week, The Telegraph reported the inquiry was facing more chaotic delays after a leaked memo signalled Blair had signed up to the war in Iraq a year before it started.

It has also been reported that former David Blunkett, the former Labour home secretary, has revealed that he challenged Blair before the war about how to avoid any chaos after Saddam’s downfall.

Meanwhile, it was revealed that Mr Blair made a secret trip to the White House to broker a deal on behalf of Muammar Gaddafi that deprived British victims of Libyan terrorism of millions of pounds in compensation.

Mr Blair acted as a go-between in negotiations between Gaddafi and President George Bush over payments to terror victims, according to a senior source.

The disclosure was made as Mr Blair ignored a deadline to explain his role to a parliamentary committee investigating the deal. He was invited to respond by Friday but instead sent a letter at 6pm on the day of the deadline, asking when the deadline was.

The source said Mr Blair travelled to Washington to intervene on behalf of Gaddafi in February 2008, after first meeting the dictator in Libya.

The new evidence suggests Mr Blair, who had quit as prime minister less than a year earlier, had played an important role in negotiations between President Bush and Gaddafi.

At the time, Libya was being sued through the US courts for committing terror atrocities, and billions of pounds of Gaddafi’s assets were at risk of being frozen as part of the lawsuits.

The deal struck by President Bush and Gaddafi led to US victims receiving £1  billion in compensation , but in exchange all court cases were dropped under an act of Congress.

But British victims, who had brought cases in the US, including almost 200 families of victims of IRA terrorist attacks, were not included in the deal. Mr Blair has always insisted he had “nothing whatever to do with any compensation legislation signed by President Bush”.

See? He does not like his own people.

On July 2, 2016, The Telegraph reported that Blair would not be investigated for war crimes in Iraq, although British soldiers could be:

Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court will examine the Chilcot report for evidence of abuse and torture by British soldiers but have already ruled out putting Tony Blair on trial for war crimes, The Telegraph can disclose.

The decision has outraged families of troops killed in Iraq who blame Mr Blair for engineering the war.

Sir John Chilcot’s report will finally be published on Wednesday and is expected to strongly criticise Mr Blair’s role in the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

But in an official statement to the Telegraph, the International Criminal Court (ICC) said its prosecutors would comb through the 2.3 million word report for evidence of war crimes committed by British troops but that decision to go to war remained outside its remit.

It means individual soldiers could be prosecuted for war crimes but not Mr Blair.

The ICC, based in the Hague, has begun a ‘preliminary examination’ of claims of torture and abuse by British soldiers, after receiving a dossier from human rights lawyers acting for alleged Iraqi victims.

Brexit

In 1983, a young Tony Blair, running for MP in his first election standing in Sedgefield, pledged to support leaving the EU.

A campaign leaflet of his from that year surfaced, as a regional paper for the North East of England, The Chronicle, discovered:

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair hasn’t half changed his tune on Brexit since the heady days of 1983.

A campaign leaflet from Mr Blair’s first election standing in Sedgefield in 1983 has resurfaced online.

In the Labour literature, the bouffanted Oxford University graduate declares he wants to leave the European Economic Community, which later became the EU.

The pamphlet said: “We’ll negotiate a withdrawal from the E.E.C. which has drained our natural resources and destroyed jobs.”

On June 26, 2016, three days after the Brexit referendum, Blair pledged to seek a second referendum. Obviously, the British people are too stupid to handle such issues via the ballot box.

The Evening Standard reported:

When asked on the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme about the possibility of another vote, he said: “As I’m looking at it here, I can’t see how we can do that.

But, you know, the point is, why rule anything out right now? As I say, you are going to have a reality to test yourself against.”

Blair said the nation needs to “see the consequences” of Brexit as they play out in the coming weeks and months.

“I can’t see how you would go through all of the mechanics of another referendum now,” he continued. I just can’t see it.

“But on the other hand I also think there will be a lot of people in the country who will say ‘well, let’s have a look at this and see what we are going to do’ and Parliament will want to look at it.”

Blair was still at it a year later, asking for a delay to Brexit negotiations:

In 2019, Blair asked for a second referendum, claiming it would be ‘healing’. Oh, my:

A month later, this Brexit poll appeared, which the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change conducted:

Hilarious!

It should be noted that Blair did not offer British voters a referendum on the Treaties of Amsterdam and Nice during his time in office:

Do we need any further proof that Blair dislikes the British people? Perhaps we do.

Migration to UK unexpected

Then there was the issue of migration to the UK, which Blair facilitated during his time as PM.

On March 19, 2017, Tony Blair said he did not anticipate the number of migrants who would come to the UK when he opened the borders to European workers.

The Telegraph reported:

The former Labour leader relaxed immigration controls in 2004 after 10 new nations including Poland, Lithuania and Hungary, were admitted to the EU.

He tried to play down the significance of opening Britain’s borders, arguing that most EU migrants came to the UK after 2008.

However, official figures show that the number of EU migrants who came to Britain rose from just 15,000 in 2003 to 87,000 the following year. That figure increased to 104,000 in 2006 and 127,000 in 2007.

Mr Blair also made a factual error by suggesting that he could only have imposed transitional controls, temporarily barring migrants for four years.

In fact other EU nations including Germany introduced the measures for up to seven years.

Those numbers, which continued to increase through subsequent years, represent one small city per year in the UK.

——————————————————–

What has Tony Blair done to deserve the Order of the Garter? Nothing whatsoever.

For at least ten years the Christians living in the Holy Land have been persecuted.

Over Christmas 2021, articles and interviews surfaced about their plight. Sadly, this is not new, but it does show how impossible a resolution to this situation seems.

In July 2011, The Sunday Times reported that the then-Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams was launching an appeal for Christians suffering in the Holy Land (emphases mine below):

The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams yesterday launched an appeal for “suffering” Christians in the Holy Land, calling for Anglicans to do more to help with community projects and job creation.

Dr Rowan Williams told the General Synod in York: “I returned from a visit to the Holy Land last year with a very, very strong sense that we had to do more to express our solidarity with the Christian communities there …

He said he hoped that Anglicans and others would give generously to help build a fund for projects that would contribute to the sustainability of the most vulnerable Christian communities, especially on the West Bank

He launched the appeal prior to a joint conference on Christians in the Holy Land with England’s Catholic Archbishop — now Cardinal — Vincent Nichols :

Dr Williams’ appeal came ahead of a conference on Christians in the Holy Land which he and the Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols are jointly hosting at Lambeth Palace in London next week.

In a video presentation to explain his appeal Dr Williams warns that the rate of Christian emigration from the Holy Land had reached the point of “haemorrhage”

Archbishop Vincent Nichols says: “People are leaving, Christians are leaving, and we want to say the Christian presence in the Holy Land is important to its balance, to its — not just its historical reality but to its presence and future viability.”

In January 2018, Patriarch Theophilos III, the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, wrote an article for The Guardian, ‘Christians are at risk of being driven out of the Holy Land’.

The Patriarch is from the Holy Land and says that socio-political tension has been part of the problem:

Much attention has been paid recently to political decisions recognising Jerusalem in one light or another. The media attention highlights the seemingly intractable political struggle here. But as well as the threat to the political status quo, there is a threat also to the religious status quo, a threat instigated by radical settlers in and around Jerusalem, the heart of Christianity. And one group that has always been a pillar of society in the Holy Land – Christians – seems to have been rendered invisible in this standoff

Now various sides want to claim the Holy Land, including Jerusalem, as the exclusive possession of only one people. This treats with contempt the mechanism that has maintained peace and our multi-religious landscape for generations.

A delegation of Christians had travelled to the UK only a short time before to discuss the seriousness of their plight:

Recently Christian communities from the Holy Land came to the UK to seek support for our plight in the face of legal and land threats to the Christian church in the Holy Land. We were moved that church leaders from across the UK came to our support. In meetings with Prince Charles and government ministers, as well as with church leaders, we highlighted a proposed “church lands” bill signed by 40 members of Israel’s Knesset that would restrict the rights of churches to deal independently with their own land. We also discussed threats to church land around the Jaffa gate of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Cardinal Nichols was also there:

The UK’s Catholic Cardinal Vincent Nichols summed up the view of many when he told us that the proposed bill represented “an intolerable infringement of the status quo and the legitimate rights of the churches, and should be recognised for what it is: an attack on the property rights of the Christian community”.

‘Radical settlers’ added to the tension:

In addition to the church lands bill, one of the foremost threats to Christians in the Holy Land is the unacceptable activities of radical settler groups, which are attempting to establish control over properties around the Jaffa gate. The properties in question are in the heart of Jerusalem’s Christian quarter, the seat of all the patriarchates and headquarters of the churches, and less than 500m from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

If the settler groups were to gain control of the properties, they would be able to pursue their aggressive campaign of removing non-Jews from the City and from these strategic centres at the heart of the Christian quarter, threatening the very presence of Christians in the Holy Land.

The Patriarch explains that the holy places are sacred because holiness is a divine characteristic, not a human one:

The Christian understanding of holy places is that all people have claims to the sanctity of their holy places, because holiness is a divine characteristic, not a human one. No party should ever be able to make an exclusive claim over a holy place – in this case, over the holy city of Jerusalem.

We shall continue the fight for this cause because it is right and because it is our basic pastoral duty.

Incidentally, in neighbouring Syria, in 2019, the Jerusalem Post featured a contrasting news story and a podcast: ‘Muslims convert to Christianity in Syrian town once besieged by ISIS’.

This took place in the town of Kobani:

A community of Syrians who converted to Christianity from Islam is growing in Kobani, a town besieged by Islamic State for months, and where the tide turned against the militants four years ago.

The converts say the experience of war and the onslaught of a group claiming to fight for Islam pushed them towards their new faith. After a number of families converted, the Syrian-Turkish border town’s first evangelical church opened last year.

Islamic State militants were beaten back by U.S. air strikes and Kurdish fighters at Kobani in early 2015, in a reversal of fortune after taking over swaths of Iraq and Syria. After years of fighting, U.S.-backed forces fully ended the group’s control over populated territory last month …

Christianity is one of the region’s minority faiths that was persecuted by Islamic State.

Critics view the new converts with suspicion, accusing them of seeking personal gain such as financial help from Christian organizations working in the region, jobs and enhanced prospects of emigration to European countries.

The newly-converted Christians of Kobani deny those accusations. They say their conversion was a matter of faith.

“After the war with Islamic State people were looking for the right path, and distancing themselves from Islam,” said Omar Firas, the founder of Kobani’s evangelical church. “People were scared and felt lost.”

Firas works for a Christian aid group at a nearby camp for displaced people that helped set up the church …

The church’s current pastor, Zani Bakr, 34, arrived last year from Afrin, a town in northern Syria. He converted in 2007.

That is a most positive step for the Good News.

Returning to Jerusalem, on Sunday, December 19, 2021, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and Hosam Naoum, the Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, co-authored an article for The Sunday Times: ‘Let us pray for the Christians being driven from the Holy Land’.

The two men say that the radical settlers have increased their persecution of Christians in the Holy Land:

Last week church leaders in Jerusalem raised an unprecedented and urgent alarm call. In a joint statement they said Christians throughout the Holy Land had become the target of frequent and sustained attacks by fringe radical groups.

They described “countless incidents” of physical and verbal assaults against priests and other clergy, and attacks on Christian churches. They spoke of holy sites being regularly vandalised and desecrated, and the ongoing intimidation of local Christians as they go about their worship and daily lives.

The Romanian Orthodox monastery in Jerusalem was vandalised during Lent in March this year, the fourth attack in a month. During Advent last December, someone lit a fire in the Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsemane, the place where Jesus prayed the night before he was crucified. It is usually a place of pilgrimage for Christians from around the world, and the vandals are thought to have taken advantage of the lack of visitors due to the pandemic.

These tactics are being used by such radical groups “in a systematic attempt to drive the Christian community out of Jerusalem and other parts of the Holy Land”, the Jerusalem church leaders said in their statement.

That is why, when you speak to Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem today, you will often hear this cry: “In 15 years’ time, there’ll be none of us left!”

This crisis takes place against a century-long decline in the Christian population in the Holy Land. In 1922, at the end of the Ottoman era, the number of Christians in the Holy Land was estimated at 73,000; about 10 per cent of the population. In 2019, Christians constituted less than 2 per cent of the population of the Holy Land: a massive drop in less than 100 years.

Elsewhere, in Jaffa, for example, there is good news, but not in Jerusalem:

In Israel, the overall number of Christians has risen. The imminent reopening of St Peter’s Anglican Church in Jaffa, which has been closed for more than 70 years, is encouraging. But in east Jerusalem, the central place for pilgrimage and the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre — where Christ is believed to have been crucified — there is a steady decline. Church leaders believe that there are now fewer than 2,000 Christians left in the Old City of Jerusalem

Christians in Israel enjoy democratic and religious freedoms that are a beacon in the region. But the escalation of physical and verbal abuse of Christian clergy, and the vandalism of holy sites by fringe radical groups, are a concerted attempt to intimidate and drive them away. Meanwhile, the growth of settler communities and travel restrictions brought about by the West Bank separation wall have deepened the isolation of Christian villages and curtailed economic and social possibilities.

All of these factors have contributed to a steady stream of Palestinian Christians leaving the Holy Land to seek lives and livelihoods elsewhere — a historic tragedy unfolding in real time.

What can be done?

This trend can be reversed — but action must be taken fast. We encourage governments and authorities in the region to listen to church leaders in their midst: to engage in the practical conversations that will lead to vital Christian culture and heritage being guarded and sustained. The time for action is now.

On Christmas Eve, Tom Harwood of GB News interviewed His Grace Bishop Dr Munib Younan from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Palestine and Jordan:

He pleaded for the radicals to ‘be brought to justice’ and asked what Jerusalem would be like without its Christian community. He says that the city belongs to three faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

He said that love is at the heart of the Christian message and that those who are persecuted should pray for their attackers. He added that Christ died on the Cross to give us life and life abundantly.

He ended by saying that everyone has to work together to resolve this ongoing and desperate situation.

On Wednesday, 29 December, Janine di Giovanni, a journalist and Senior Fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, wrote about this subject in a broader sense for The Telegraph: ‘We need to talk about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East’.

She has reported from the Middle East for three decades and says:

I can tell you first hand, as a human rights reporter who spent three decades working in the Middle East, the situation there is urgent and it threatens to disrupt the entire demographic of the area. I made it my mission to work with embattled Christians, aiding them in their plight and trying to get the message out to the wider world: they are in peril. And so, I began in-depth field work on the most vulnerable Christian communities. I focused on four areas where I felt the risk was most prominent: Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and the minute group of Christians in the Gaza Strip. Their numbers are dwindling rapidly.

Social scientists estimate that some of them – such as the Iraqi Christians whose populations have plummeted from close to 1.5 million to an estimated 100,000 in 40 years – are in danger of extinction. It is unthinkable to me that Christianity in its birthplace, the land of the prophets where St. Thomas or Jonah had wandered, might disappear. Everywhere I went as a war reporter in my long career – Africa, Asia, the Balkans, Afghanistan – I always found a church. No matter where I was, these visits drew me back into a safe place where I found solace and freedom from gripping fear.

Even Kabul had a tiny Catholic chapel, Our Lady of Divine Providence, at the Italian Embassy, opened in 2002 after the fall of the Taliban. But unlike the Christians in the Middle East – whose ancestry can stretch back to the prophets two millenn[ia] ago – the tiny population of Afghan Christians were nearly all converts. Nonetheless, this month, Father Giovanni Scalese, the leader of that community, who has since fled, issued a plea that Christians need no “obstacles to religious freedom.” Their situation is bad in Afghanistan, but even worse in the Middle East.

During lockdown, she began writing a book — The Vanishing: The Twilight of Christianity in the Middle East — based on journals of interviews that she has kept since the 1990s. Her article recounts some of what Christians are experiencing in that part of the world. It’s a harrowing read.

However, one place stood out for her:

it was the 800 Christian inhabitants of Gaza who perhaps touched me the most. Gaza was mostly Christian until the fourth Century. Today, the mainly Greek Orthodox Christians – but also Catholics, Lutherans Baptists – are sandwiched between Hamas, which is at war with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, and also with the Israelis.

The lives of these Christians (as all civilians in Gaza) are perhaps the most hellish on a day-to-day basis: the lack of electricity, fresh water and health services, the fear of more bombing and their inability to visit family in Bethlehem and Jerusalem during the holidays. They are isolated and abandoned. Last summer, I returned, my first trip since Covid – and the situation was the worst I had seen in 30 years.

Nonetheless, faith and love characterise the persecuted:

But faith somehow continues, even in these embattled communities. Throughout the hundreds of interviews I did for The Vanishing, there was one theme that was consistent: love. Whether it was Father Mario da Silva, an inspirational Portuguese priest who had left a comfortable posting in The Vatican to work in Gaza, or a family celebrating its existence after encountering Isil on a mountaintop near Mosul. These people continued to pray, to believe, to gain inner strength from something they could not see or even at times understand: their profound belief in God.

Their faith, in many ways, was more powerful than any of the forces that tried to destroy them.

Christians know that persecution is to be expected, but we can pray that God relieves believers in the Middle East of this daily scourge, a seemingly intractable — and tragic — situation.

Many years ago, Chicago’s PBS station ran a late-night show on Saturdays featuring newspaper columnist Irv Kupcinet, who was its host.

Irv Kupcinet invited a variety of guests on to sit around a table for 90 minutes to discuss current events.

He mentioned ‘the lively art of conversation’ in every show. Despite the controversial topics, his guests managed to engage with him and each other in an intelligent and considered way. Perhaps that was because Kupcinet set the tone with his own conversational style. I could be wrong, but I don’t recall anyone ever walking off the show or being told to calm down.

Nearly 50 years on, things have changed drastically.

We’re at the point where we cannot discuss much, even around the relative safety of the dinner table.

On November 22, 2021, The Times‘s India Knight discussed this unfortunate state of affairs in ‘Our children are losing the ability to argue’. She means making a reasoned, fact-based argument for or against something, e.g. climate change.

I fully appreciated her experience as a youngster, because it paralleled my own (emphases mine):

When I was growing up, the kitchen table was a place of frequent and sometimes shouty political and cultural debate. I would acquire an opinion, usually from something I’d read or watched but sometimes from someone I thought was cool, and then I would express it, often with half an eye to provocation, in the self-important teenage manner. I didn’t have the sort of parents who smile vaguely and say, “That’s nice, dear”, so I would be expected to explain why my opinion was my opinion and to defend it as it was dismantled and sometimes demolished.

My father was excellent at that: ‘If you’re going to take a stance, you’ll have to defend it a lot better than that. Come back with some facts.’

And I could also relate to India Knight’s reaction as an adolescent:

I did occasionally go off to my room in a huff, there to boil with fury at the great injustice of not being given a standing ovation every time I aired a view. But eight times out of ten the conversation was lively and thought-provoking, even enlightening (because I was a child, and children know less than adults, having lived less life). The conversations/arguments were sometimes fiery, but because I was treated as an intellectual equal, I didn’t feel belittled. I found it intriguing and satisfying to learn what the opposing point of view to mine was on any given topic, and why it was held. It taught me that people who hold different opinions from yours can still be clever, likeable and interesting; that they hold their views just as dearly as you hold yours, and that this is fine.

These days, I look back on my late parents’ viewpoints on life and politics. I consider them geniuses, because I now hold those same perspectives.

However, today’s adolescents and twenty-somethings really don’t know how to put forward their side of an argument:

Woke young people are amazing. They do care about important things in a laudable way and are indeed awake to social justice. All that is great. But you really can’t say anything any more. The kitchen table scenario I describe above is now often a fraught and tentative affair, involving many eggshells and much tiptoeing. The anxiety is all on the part of the parents. Even the gentlest, most thoughtful and cotton-woolly discussion can result in young people feeling aggressed and disrespected. The parent’s only permissible answer to, “The sky is green,” is, “Yes, that’s right.” This is never truer than in the context of gender, in which expressing the previously uncontroversial view that biology is real can instantly mark you out as a bigot, a fascist or a phobe.

Sometimes, too, big, insulting, very loaded accusations are chucked carelessly about by the children. As a result, many parents of teenagers I know — and by “many” I mean “nearly all” — feel it’s just not worth the hassle of having these conversations. And, as a result of that, an awful lot of young people don’t know how to argue their case when faced with views that differ from their own. They are able to air an opinion but not to defend it objectively or intellectually at any level.

India Knight says:

Parents must gird their loins and persevere, I think, in tiny, manageable increments. It is vital for children to understand that disagreement is not a personal attack, that holding a topic up to the light is not sinister and that saying, “You’ve just completely contradicted yourself, darling,” isn’t abusive.

I couldn’t agree more, and if more parents, like hers and mine, did that, the world would be a better place.

Unfortunately, a growing number of adults are also unable to accept differing points of view.

Spiked‘s Brendan O’Neill discussed this sad phenomenon on GB News with Patrick Christys on Wednesday, December 22. He said that people are too afraid to say anything that goes against the accepted narrative. He’s right:

That was an apposite interview just before Christmas, when Britons were preparing to host family and friends around the dinner table.

Earlier that day, another GB News host, Michelle Dewberry, explored the horrid nature of the division appearing between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. Tony Blair called the unvaxxed ‘idiots’ and the Archbishop of Canterbury called them ‘immoral’. Blair later walked back his use of ‘idiots’. I’m not sure the Archbishop did likewise.

In any event, Michelle Dewberry discussed this divisive controversy at the beginning of her show (from 8:25 to 11:20):

There are many reasons why people are rightly suspicious of the vaccinations. I’ve had my two shots and the booster but fully understand why others don’t want them. Most of those people can cogently explain their reasons for not doing so.

It is disappointing to see a former Prime Minister and the spiritual head of the Church of England labelling people with whom they disagree in such a parlous way. Were he alive, Irv Kupcinet would have been appalled.

Surely, they should be leading by example.

It is time to return to the lively art of conversation, but that also requires an ability to accept other perspectives, whether we’re teens or grandparents.

We know where the blame lies. We have to try and stop damaging division and emotional arguments in the best way we can. Unfortunately, it is much easier said than done, and I do not have a solution.

The UK had another big weekend of news, which, as I said last week, is unusual, given that Christmas is just around the corner.

One of the big scoops was The Spectator‘s revelation as to why every SAGE scenario is based on a worst-case outcome.

Fraser Nelson, the magazine’s editor, had an online exchange with Graham Medley from SAGE, which can be seen in his article, ‘My Twitter conversation with the chairman of the Sage Covid modelling committee’, which is a must-read.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Medley is a professor at London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). Last week, LSHTM published another alarming set of figures for the Omicron variant that, naturally, make the case for more lockdowns.

By contrast, JP Morgan came up with a different conclusion after looking at LSHTM’s data:

JP Morgan had a close look at this study and spotted something big: all the way through, LSHTM assumes that the Omicron variant is just as deadly as Delta. ‘But evidence from South Africa suggests that Omicron infections are milder,’ JP Morgan pointed out in a note to clients.

JP Morgan concluded:

Bed occupancy by Covid-19 patients at the end of January would be 33% of the peak seen in January 2021. This would be manageable without further restrictions.

Fraser Nelson says:

So JP Morgan had shown that, if you tweak one assumption (on severity) then – suddenly – no need for lockdown.

Nelson went online to find out why LSHTM didn’t do the same thing:

Medley seems to imply that the Government wants the worst case scenario:

Nelson says:

Note how careful he is to stay vague on whether any of the various scenarios in the Sage document are likely or even plausible. What happened to the original system of presenting a ‘reasonable worse-case scenario’ together with a central scenario? And what’s the point of modelling if it doesn’t say how likely any these scenarios are?

From what Prof Medley says, it’s unclear that the most-likely scenario is even being presented to ministers this time around. So how are they supposed to make good decisions? I highly doubt that Sajid Javid is only asking to churn out models that make the case for lockdown. That instruction, if it is being issued, will have come from somewhere else.

He concludes that there is an ethical issue with SAGE’s pronouncements:

Prof. Robert Dingwall, until recently a JCVI [Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisation] expert, has said that Medley’s candour reveals “a fundamental problem of scientific ethics in Sage” – ie, a hardwired negativity bias.  “The unquestioning response to the brief is very like that of SPI-B’s behavioural scientists,” he says and suggests that the Covid inquiry looks into all this.

At a time when we have just been given a new set of ‘scenarios’ for a new year lockdown it might be good if someone – if not Prof Medley – would clear up what assumptions lie behind the new 6,000-a-day-dead scenario, and if emerging information from South Africa about Omicron and its virulence have been taken into account. And how probable it is that a double-jabbed and increasingly boosted nation (with 95 per cent antibody coverage) could see this worst-case scenario come to pass.

In my view, this raises serious questions not just about Sage but about the quality of the advice used to make UK lockdown decisions. And the lack of transparency and scrutiny of that advice. The lives of millions of people rests on the quality of decisions, so the calibre of information supplied matters rather a lot – to all of us.

Too right.

I haven’t believed SAGE at all, from the beginning. I am also still angry about how much taxpayers’ money has been pumped in for a pandemic that needed a common sense solution in March 2020, such as, ‘There are a lot of unknowns here. We will provide updates. However, we advise that anyone who feels sick to get a test then isolate at home for 10 days. Keep your distance from those outside your household. Keep your hands clean. Above all: use the same precautions you would in any potentially contagious environment.’

That’s it in a nutshell. Not a lot more needed to be said.

But no.

We plebs couldn’t have that. We cannot be trusted.

Chief Medical Officer Prof Chris Whitty implied that we do not know what we are talking about.

This video is from Whitty’s appearance before a parliamentary Select Committee on Thursday, December 16. Dean Russell MP (Conservative) asked him whether the NHS risks prioritising the virus over cancer. While it might not be Dean Russell’s view, this is a prevailing opinion among many members of the public.

Whitty wasted no time in shooting that down, saying that we do not understand ‘health’ and insisting that lockdowns helped to save the NHS, which would have collapsed otherwise. Along with Prof Gordon Wishart, I also beg to differ, but here is the exchange:

People are frustrated:

General practitioners are wrapped up in this, too:

Coronavirus has overtaken their surgeries. It was already nearly impossible to get an online appointment, never mind one in person. As of last week, GPs’ priority from the Government is to dispense boosters:

No, pandemics are not a regular occurrence, but the NHS should be prepared to deal with one.

On Monday, December 20, Boris convened the Cabinet for a two-hour meeting to discuss the possibility of imposing a Christmas lockdown in England. Sir Patrick Vallance presented a doom-and-gloom scenario.

Bear in mind that Boris is skating on thin ice at the moment politically. A lockdown might have caused some of them to resign their Cabinet positions.

In the end, they decided not to go for a lockdown in England, at least over Christmas weekend:

Well, five of them did, at least.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss had to leave early:

https://image.vuukle.com/72d3fbbd-8a54-4bac-865c-3fd342d8e2b7-0450edce-1519-43f8-8417-b493691b9f15

Guido Fawkes has more (red emphasis his, the purple one mine):

The Times and Telegraph have the most comprehensive write-ups, reporting Rishi, Steve Barclay and Grant Shapps were those leading the sceptics’ charge. The Times reports Jacob Rees-Mogg had a prolonged argument with Vallance about their modelling, telling Boris to trust the people rather than the scientists. Truss, Kwarteng, Alister Jack, Nadhim Zahawi and Nigel Adams are all also reportedly sceptical about the threat of Omicron…

On the other side of the divide backing restrictions, according to The Telegraphare (unsurprisingly) Javid and Gove; Nadine Dorries and Chief secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke. We can only presume the PM also errs towards this group. There’s set to be one more Cabinet before Christmas day that could still decide to recall MPs before New Year.

Katy Balls of The Spectator reports that this is the first time in ages that the Cabinet has been consulted on coronavirus policy:

So what happened in that meeting? ‘Boris did a great job and encouraged a proper discussion and respected other views,’ says one minister. ‘He had quite a lot humility’. Michael Gove was, as usual, leading the arguments for more lockdown. But this was based on Sage forecasts of what might happen which have lost some credibility in the eyes of Cabinet members who were — for the first time in a while — genuinely being consulted.

Boris knows he’s in trouble:

Several members of Johnson’s Cabinet are vocally opposed to new restrictions. They argue that there needs to be clearer data before any restrictions are brought in – with whispers of resignations if Johnson pressed on without this. These members of government hope that more time will offer clarity that could show omicron is milder than previous variants.

Behind the scenes, the Chancellor is understood to have played a key role warning against rushing into decisions that could cost billions. Other ministers keen to see more modelling include Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (“although it was never quite clear what he was saying,” I’m told.) Other ministers have been pressing on Johnson the idea of limiting any new measures to guidance.

But when Johnson emerged talking about the need to observe the data, and questions about Omicron’s severity, he was using the language of those who opposed lockdown. They argue, in effect, that Sage models cannot be trusted as they are composed of hypotheticals – and that we need to wait for real-world data. The next few days of hospital data, it’s argued, will tell us much about how severe Omicron is and if lockdown is needed. Data is emerging not just from South Africa (where cases now seem to be falling) but Denmark where Omicron has been found to be significantly less likely to put patients in hospital. At least some Sage modellers produced figures on the assumption that Omicron is no less likely to hospitalise or kill: one scenario talks about deaths peaking a day

Johnson faces a parliamentary party filled with MPs vehemently opposed to any new restrictions and who could question his ability to lead as a result. When the Whips office sent a note around this afternoon telling MPs that the parliamentary away day has been cancelled, one messaged me to say:

‘It’s probably for the best. If we were all in one place for a few days, we could work out a successor’

But there are Tory MPs who believe action is required. One senior Tory concludes:

‘This is a Prime Minister paralysed between science and his backbenchers. It’s depressing.’ 

The Times reports on Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg’s words of wisdom. He, too, read Fraser Nelson’s article. Good man:

Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the Commons, said the government should trust people to do the right thing rather than introduce further restrictions. He said many people had voluntarily changed their behaviour as the threat posed by Omicron became clear.

The prime minister said Rees-Mogg’s argument was interesting but asked how he would justify his approach at a press conference. He said that as prime minister he had to look after everyone’s health. Rees-Mogg is understood to have responded: “I would stand up and say I respect them for doing the right thing.” The prime minister is said to have suggested that this would not be enough if the NHS were at risk of being overwhelmed.

Rees-Mogg is also understood to have criticised official modelling suggesting that without further action 3,000 Omicron patients a day could need a hospital bed. He asked if Johnson had read an article by Fraser Nelson, editor of The Spectator, questioning the assumptions behind the data.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, is said to have responded directly to Rees-Mogg that the modelling had included scenarios where the Omicron variant was deemed less severe than the Delta variant.

If so, why did Vallance not present those data?

Boris made a brief announcement after the Cabinet meeting, saying that he is still keeping all options open after Christmas:

On Wednesday, December 22, Health minister Gillian Keegan told LBC’s Nick Ferrari not make firm plans for New Year’s parties because of ongoing ‘uncertainty’:

As people have been cancelling dinner reservations and reneging on trips to the pub, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has had to come up with a £1bn compensation plan for the hospitality sector, which amounts to £6000 per business. A nightclub owner says it’s ‘insulting’. I agree with the person replying — just drop any remaining restrictions:

When is this going to end?

Oh, well. At least we’re not in the socialist nations of Scotland or Wales, where things have been far worse and continue so to be.

In the UK, coronavirus vaccine boosters progress apace.

This advert is showing at cinemas around the country. It features Prof Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer:

https://image.vuukle.com/567afe53-342b-4f8e-a203-156c1d4476f2-48f207ed-296b-4e59-8ad1-467af89a498a

Scary.

It is reminiscent of 1984:

https://image.vuukle.com/72d3fbbd-8a54-4bac-865c-3fd342d8e2b7-4a1fc761-e4f9-4c05-9320-8e9620eef6fd

Someone else posted those images a few days ago.

Here’s another:

https://image.vuukle.com/4df088ea-a2bd-4e5a-9a27-e8d14bfdebbc-982859b6-edbb-4025-8295-d5f48d64cd4e

On Saturday, December 18, Neil Oliver of GB News interviewed Dr Robert W Malone about the vaccines and the boosters (33-43 minutes in):

Malone discusses his involvement in mRNA vaccine technology from its inception in the late 1980s and development into the 1990s. He now looks at these vaccines from a regulatory perspective.

He, along with a number of other physicians and scientists, e.g. Dr Pierre Kory, does not think that the coronavirus vaccines have been developed in a conventional manner.

Furthermore, he does not think they should be:

1/ given to children;

2/ given to people with normally functioning immune systems;

3/ mandated.

In other words, if he is correct, most of us reading this post should never have had the coronavirus vaccines or boosters.

Malone thinks that those should have been reserved only for the immuno-compromised, but admits that, even with that caveat, he’s having second thoughts about that group as well.

Hmm.

In June, Linked In suspended his account for his views on the vaccines:

In 2022, the UK is likely to get legislation prohibiting ‘hateful anti-vaccine’ (MPs’ words) articles and opinions. A few other countries already have such laws:

Note how the BBC fits in:

Congratulations to Neil Oliver and GB News for giving Dr Malone much needed air time.

It’s been a week full of news, which is unusual right before Christmas. Yet, here we are.

Omicron death

The person who died with Omicron was an unvaccinated man in his 70s:

I, too, would like those questions answered.

The man’s stepson called into Nick Ferrari’s LBC show to say that he was a germophobe. He had everything delivered to his door and never left the house unless he had to post a letter:

Guido Fawkes has more (emphasis in the original):

Speaking to Nick Ferrari, the stepson of the man who died earlier this week claimed that he had been taken in by “conspiracy theories”, and refused to take the vaccine despite being in his early 70s:

He thought it was a conspiracy. He was an intelligent man but it’s all these different things you are getting from online and different media things… He wasn’t vaccinated at all.

According to the latest figures, there are currently 15 people in hospital with Omicron, an increase of 5 since Tuesday…

Chris Whitty’s Omicron projections

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson held a press conference with Chief Medical Officer Prof Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Officer Prof Patrick Vallance.

Whitty predicted Armageddon with a chart showing unbelievably high projections of Omicron cases.

A good friend of mine said he hoped that chart would come back to bite Whitty in the proverbial. I couldn’t agree more.

However, when Whitty appeared before the Health and Social Care Select Committee on Thursday, December 16, he changed his tune when giving evidence to MPs.

The Telegraph reported (emphases mine):

Britain may be “better off” with omicron than it was with the delta variant, thanks to the booster programme, Prof Chris Whitty has suggested.

Giving evidence at the Health and Social Care Select Committee, the Chief Medical Officer for England said that vaccines appeared to be holding up well against omicron and said boosters may even be preventing transmissibility and infection

“It is possible that with a boost, we’re better off with omicron than we are with two vaccines with delta for severe disease,” he told MPs.

Prof Whitty said he was expecting omicron to cause an “impressive” rise in cases, which could lead to daily peaks in admission bigger than seen in the January wave, when hospitalisations hit nearly 40,000 a day.

However, he said that cases may begin to fall quickly and that a milder illness may mean people would stay in hospital for a short period, reducing the overall burden on the health service. Fewer people may also need intensive care, he added

“I think most people think on the positive side, that there will be some preserved immunity, particularly on the non-antibody side, such as T-cells. Therefore it is likely someone who has one or two vaccines already will have some protection and with a booster considerably more protection against hospitalisation and death.

“It does look as if boosters restore some of the ability to actually reduce infection and transmission, at least for a period of time.”

Then he told MPs that he was reluctant to give the public projection numbers, yet he did just that at this week’s press conference:

I have resisted putting forward projection numbers into the public domain because I don’t think they are reliable and you can’t put enough caveats on them.”

We don’t think they are reliable either, Prof Whitty.

Health and Security Agency’s Omicron projections for England withdrawn

The UK Health and Security Agency also backtracked on their projections because of a change in public behaviour. I wonder:

If only they would lift Plan B …

… because it is really hurting the hospitality sector.

Michel Roux Jr has tweeted about his daughter Emily’s London restaurant Caractère, which is suffering from a rash of sudden cancellations:

Her restaurant is not the only one. Omicron has everyone running scared.

But, what if it ‘cases’ did double every two days and what if we all caught Omicron? Would it confer herd immunity? We’ll know if the following extrapolation is true by Twelfth Night:

The Queen cancels Windsor Castle pre-Christmas lunch

Because of the Omicron scare, our sovereign has cancelled her traditional pre-Christmas family lunch at Windsor Castle. ITV’s Chris Ship reports:

South Africa, however, remains relatively relaxed about Omicron, as the Daily Mail‘s Dan Hodges points out. Note the reply, which shows Chris Whitty contradicting himself yet again. Either boosters help immunity or they don’t. Which is it, Chris?

The elusive NHS GP can be seen — privately

Our NHS GPs have been elusive since last year. If you’re lucky, you can get a telephone or an online appointment. Very few patients are able to see them in person.

However, if one goes private, one can see one’s GP:

It looks as if the Mail on Sunday is investigating this situation. Good!

Killing off ivermectin as coronavirus prophylaxis

In more medical news, we discover how ivermectin was effectively killed off as a prophylaxis for coronavirus in the UK and the US.

Thanks to my reader dearieme for the Vox Day link, which leads to a World Tribune article summarising the incident from Robert Kennedy Jr’s New York Times Bestseller, The Real Anthony Fauci: Bill Gates, Big Pharma, and the global war on Democracy and Public Health.

Excerpts follow:

Andrew Hill, PhD, is a senior visiting Research Fellow in Pharmacology at Liverpool University. He is also an advisor for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Clinton Foundation. As a researcher for the WHO evaluating ivermectin, Hill wielded enormous influence over international guidance for the drug’s use.

Hill had previously authored an analysis of ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19 that found the drug overwhelmingly effective.

On Jan. 6 of 2021, Hill testified enthusiastically before the NIH COVID-19 Treatment Guidlelines Panel in support of ivermectin’s use. Within a month, however, Hill found himself in what he describes as a “tricky situation.” Under pressure from his funding sponsors, Hill then published an unfavorable study. Ironically, he used the same sources as in the original study. Only the conclusions had changed.

Shortly before he published, Dr. Tess Lawrie, Director of the Evidence-based Medicine Consultancy in Bath, England, and one of the world’s leading medical research analysts, contacted Hill via Zoom and recorded the call (transcript below). Lawrie had learned of his new position and reached out to try to rectify the situation.

In a remarkable exchange, a transcript of which appears on pages 137 – 143 in Kennedy’s book, Hill admitted his manipulated study would likely delay the uptake of ivermectin in the UK and United States, but said he hoped his doing so would only set the lifesaving drug’s acceptance back by about “six weeks,” after which he was willing to give his support for its use

The two scientists discussed ivermectin’s positive results in combating coronavirus:

… the number of preventable deaths incurred by such a delay would be staggering — as many as 504,000.

Hill declined being listed as Lawrie’s head author on the paper with the positive results. Instead, he published the negative findings.

This is why he did so:

Four days before publication, Hill’s sponsor Unitaid gave the University of Liverpool, Hill’s employer $40 million. Unitaid, it turns out, was also an author of the conclusions of Hill’s study

when pressed he admitted his sponsor, Unitaid, was an unacknowledged author of conclusions.

Unitaid has a say in the conclusions of the paper. Yeah,” he told Lawrie

Dr. Pierre Kory, of the Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance, commented, “Andrew is apparently making a living now accusing the doctors and scientists who support ivermectin of medical fraud.”

Regulatory acceptance of ivermectin did not delay only six weeks. Instead, almost a year later, it has still not been approved by health agencies in the United Kingdom or in United States. Instead The WHO, CDC, NIH, and FDA have suppressed the drug’s use.

Instead, we are taking notional vaccines. Who knows what they are doing to our bodies?

Boris’s daughter’s name

Boris and Carrie Johnson have named their infant daughter Romy Iris Charlotte. She is shown with her brother Wilfred:

Romy is a ‘rainbow baby’ because she followed a miscarriage.

Best wishes to the Johnsons.

Conservatives lose safe seat for first time ever

In less cheery news for Boris, the Conservatives lost Owen Paterson‘s former North Shropshire constituency for the first time ever — nearly 200 years:

Paterson resigned a few weeks ago over sleaze allegations. He had a 23,000+ majority in the 2019 general election.

Failed candidate Neil Shastri-Hunt, who had been parachuted in from outside the constituency, said he planned to get some sleep and:

go and give my 8-week old a bit of a cuddle.

My commiserations to anyone who took this misguided betting advice:

The by-election took place on Thursday, December 16. The Liberal Democrats won by a landslide, as I thought they might:

Also note how low the vote for Labour was, despite party leader Sir Keir Starmer refusing to admit he is a socialist:

What does that mean?

Conservative Party chairman Oliver Dowden MP admitted his party ‘got a kicking’ but added that such by-election results are not unusual when a Prime Minister is halfway through his or her term in office:

Therefore, this protest vote might be a one-off. Let us hope so.

However, in order for that to happen, Boris must be more of a Conservative and less of a Green Blairite.

Courier’s employees throw parcels against wall

And last, but hardly least, we have distressing news about some Christmas home deliveries.

Hermes is the UK’s worst courier company, but we have to put up with their delayed, sometimes damaged, deliveries.

A reporter from The Times did a brief stint with Hermes and found a group of disgruntled employees, some of whom threw parcels against a warehouse wall. The reporter is shown with his car boot open:

Hermes will investigate but says this is not typical behaviour of its employees. The company is at the bottom of the national delivery league table:

Meanwhile, I have been noting the rather downbeat Christmas notes we have received with our cards this year.

I hope that 2022 brings us far better tidings.

Yesterday’s post discussed the vote on coronavirus measures — Plan B — for England, which saw a sizeable Conservative rebellion, while most Labour MPs voted with the Government.

Labour is supposed to be the main Opposition party. Yet, their MPs, along with most Conservative MPs, seem to be in lockstep. How sad.

In a late-breaking development to Plan B, self-quarantine rules have been changed to daily testing for seven days. On Tuesday, December 14, Sajid Javid told MPs the following before the Plan B votes, which were split into four divisions (emphases mine below):

Instead of close contacts of confirmed cases or suspected cases having to self-isolate, all vaccinated contacts, irrespective of whether the contact was with an omicron case, will be asked to take lateral flow tests every day for seven days. Regulation No. 1415 allows us to put this plan into action by revoking the omicron-specific provisions for self-isolation.

That’s good news.

As for the other three provisions, sadly, all passed.

This is one of the few times when tellers for the divisions — votes — were from the same party:

Here’s what happened:

1/ Masks are once again compulsory in public, enclosed spaces, including houses of worship:

2/ Coronavirus vaccines will be required for NHS and social care, including care home, staff by April 2022:

3/ Coronavirus passports will be mandatory for large gatherings and venues:

That said, note the big opposition votes for mandatory vaccines and the vaccine passports. Guido Fawkes has a list of 98 Conservatives who voted against the Government on vaccine passports. Well done, rebels!

Labour Party whips spotted three more, including Sir Desmond Swayne and Bob Seely:

The number of Conservative rebels far exceeded the predicted 81. A few Labour MPs joined in as well as ten of 11 Liberal Democrats. Sir Ed Davey, Lib Dem party leader, was self-isolating with coronavirus. As there is no more remote voting by proxy, as there was during hybrid Commons proceedings this year, he could not register his votes.

Labour’s Mary Kelly Foy couldn’t vote, either, for the same reason:

By the way, this is how the voting is done as of the middle of 2021. The Commons is modernising with card readers that record votes:

Beware of dubious interpretations of these new rules, as much as millions of us disagree with them.

We need to read the full headlines. The Telegraph says that vaccine passports do not apply to MPs — but, if we read carefully, we see that is only in the House of Commons. They will be subject to the law elsewhere, just like everyone else:

On that story, Scotland’s The Herald reports:

Recent social distancing rules in the chamber ended this week

Former Tory chief whip Mark Harper, who chairs the lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery Group, raised a point of order about busy sessions in the chamber being regulated.

He said: “It seems to me, particularly on a Wednesday when we get back to normal, that definition could equally apply to this House of Commons.

“It’d be outrageous if the executive were to attempt to prevent any Member of Parliament attending this House to represent our constituents without first undergoing a medical procedure.”

He added: “Your 17th century predecessor, Speaker Lenthall, stood up very effectively against an overmighty executive and it didn’t end well for the overmighty executive.”

Sir Lindsay replied: “It did lead to the end of the monarchy as well, I might add, for a short period so let’s hope we’re not quite going back that far.”

“There is nothing to stop a member coming in to here, you have the right to come to this House unless this House otherwise says so.

“The Government’s not been in touch, I don’t expect them to be in touch because, as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t apply to members.”

The Telegraph‘s Alison Pearson would disagree with my calling Conservative rebels ‘rebels’.

She — perhaps rightly — calls them ‘the true Conservatives’:

Please don’t call the MPs who voted against vaccine passports ‘Tory rebels’. In my book, those upstanding men and women are the true Conservatives. Rather, it is those who pushed through this repellently un-British measure, with the help of the Labour Party, who are the traitors to our philosophy

From head boy of the old school, Sir Graham Brady, to 28-year-old blonde bombshell of the Red Wall Dehenna Davison, via former Royal Air Force engineer Steve Baker (more sense than the entire Cabinet combined) through that lioness Esther McVey, keenly compassionate Sir Charles Walker and Miriam Cates (both rightly devastated by the collateral damage of lockdown) to fearless, principled Nus Ghani and the swashbuckling Sir Desmond Swayne… These are my heroes – and all the rest who dug in their heels on the slippery slope to authoritarianism.

As Cates put it: “The new measures threaten to cement a permanent shift in the balance of power between the Government and the British people that has been brought about by two years of ‘hokey-cokey’ restrictions on our freedom. This is a shift that is no doubt being celebrated by those on the Left, but it should chill Conservatives to the core.”

Unfortunately, after the vote, new, positive data came out about the Omicron variant:

As I was writing this, there landed a fresh blow to the Government’s campaign of fear. The first major study found that omicron was likely to be 23 per cent less severe than the delta variant, with those of us who are double-jabbed still enjoying good protection. Far fewer people needed intensive care for omicron, with just five per cent of cases admitted to ICU compared with 22 per cent of delta patients.

Pearson sees this as good news:

By catching and shrugging off the omicron “cold”, we could be minimising the risk to those who will always be vulnerable.

Things could always be worse for England. At least it’s not Scotland, where First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has put the screws on for Christmas. On Tuesday, The Herald reported Sturgeon as saying there was a ‘tsunami’ of coronavirus cases in Scotland:

Nicola Sturgeon is urging Scots to limit socialising to a maximum of three households at a time …

The first minister said: “We are not banning or restricting household mixing in law as before. We understand the negative impact this has on mental health and wellbeing.”

… “However, if you do plan on socialising – either at home or in indoor public places – we are asking that you limit the number of households represented in your group to a maximum of 3. And make sure you test before you go.” 

Sturgeon advised businesses as follows:

For retail, it will include “a return to the kind of protections from the start of the pandemic – like measures to avoid crowding and bottlenecks. This will include physical distancing, measures to control the flow of customers, and protective screens.”

For hospitality, “it will mean for example, measures to avoid crowding at bars and between tables, and a reminder of the requirement to collect contact details of customers to help with contact tracing.”

The article said that only two people have been hospitalised in Scotland with the Omicron variant, yet:

The first minister said: “The R number associated with Delta is around 1. But the R number for Omicron appears to be well over 2, and possibly above 4.”

She added that this was why Scotland was facing a “tsunami” of cases.

Okay. I remain to be convinced. I hope that most Scots are also unconvinced.

This saga will roll on into the New Year, no doubt.

With regard to Omicron, this is where we left off on Monday in the UK — one death:

Guido Fawkes’s accompanying post says (emphasis in the original):

Boris has claimed this morning that one hospital patient has died with the Omicron variant, telling cameras “Sadly yes, Omicron is producing hospitalisations, and sadly at least one patient has been confirmed to have died with Omicron.” It is not yet known whether the patient had comorbidities...

So far, it is believed that Omicron is a relatively mild variant. The Singaporean Ministry of Health has stated (H/T Guido Fawkes; emphasis mine):

Cases who have been detected around the world have mostly displayed mild symptoms, and no Omicron-related deaths have been reported so far. Common symptoms reported include sore throat, tiredness and cough.

The numbers hospitalised with Omicron are in single digits …

… never mind what Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said on this morning’s news round:

Dominic Raab doesn’t appear to know how many patients are in hospital with Omicron. Yesterday, Sajid Javid said it was “around ten”, with Raab this morning claiming on Sky News that the figure had now jumped up to 250, which would be an alarming leap in just 24 hours. Thirty minutes later on BBC Breakfast, however, Raab inexplicably slashed that number all the way down to 9. The new antiviral treatments are good – they aren’t that good.

Regardless, today, after the Government already implemented it last week, MPs voted on Plan B for England. There were four separate divisions (votes). One was on coronavirus passports.

When Tuesday’s parliamentary session began, Plan B involved wearing masks in enclosed spaces and public transport as well, working from home as well as a return to quarantine.

When Health Secretary Sajid Javid began his address, he mentioned that quarantine would be less severe. It would now involve daily testing instead of a mandated policy to stay indoors (emphases mine):

At the end of last month, this House passed regulations requiring all close contacts of a suspected or confirmed omicron case to self-isolate for 10 days, but given the increasing dominance of omicron, this approach no longer makes sense for public health purposes and nor is it sustainable for the economy. So we are drawing on the testing capacity that we have built to create a new system of daily testing for covid contacts that has started today. Instead of close contacts of confirmed cases or suspected cases having to self-isolate, all vaccinated contacts, irrespective of whether the contact was with an omicron case, will be asked to take lateral flow tests every day for seven days. Regulation No. 1415 allows us to put this plan into action by revoking the omicron-specific provisions for self-isolation.

Ahead of the official vote, The Telegraph‘s cartoonist Bob Moran took action on masks on Saturday, December 11:

Not surprisingly, Plan B has begun to wreak havoc with cancellations of international travel and Christmas gatherings in hospitality venues.

At least 80 Conservative MPs were expected to rebel and vote against the Government. On the day, 98 rebelled against the vaccine passport, along with three others spotted by Labour Whips. They included Sir Desmond Swayne and Bob Seely. I plan to discuss the results in another post:

Although a rebellion by Conservatives alone did not stop the Government winning the votes — thanks to Labour! — it should send a clear message to Boris.

Alicia Kearns tweeted that she would vote against coronavirus passports:

People living in England are concerned about the constant moving of goalposts with regard to coronavirus restrictions.

Conservative MPs became angry last week. In his press conference on Wednesday, December 8, when he announced Plan B, Boris mooted the idea of ‘a national conversation’ about mandatory vaccinations:

The rebel MPs’ reaction was immediate:

Guido began compiling his list on December 9. A selection of comments from MPs follows:

  • Alexander Stafford said “he cannot and will not support mandatory vaccinations“, adding that working from home “disproportionately negatively affects younger people and those starting out in their careers”.
  • Douglas Ross said “There is no evidence that vaccine passports stop the spread of Covid” and that since he didn’t vote for them in Holyrood, he wouldn’t vote for them in Westminster either.
  • Graham Brady said in the chamber last night that “it’s deja vu all over again, isn’t it?
  • Peter Bone slammed compulsory vaccinations on Newsnight, calling the idea “completely outrageous“, and even saying “I’d be the first to say the PM should go” if they were implemented.
  • Simon Jupp said “I don’t support Plan B”, called vaccine passports “divisive & discriminatory”, and made it clear that he “won’t vote for these measures.”
  • Steve Baker insisted it is “vital that the maximum number of Conservative MPs vote against Plan B, whatever our useless Opposition do”.

Over the weekend, Steve Baker tweeted that he would be relaunching his Conservative Way Forward movement, open to MPs and the general public. It is meant to restore the Conservative Party to its proper origins rather than a Boris-led Blairite/Labour-lite party:

Sir Edward Leigh MP stated his intention to vote against the Government for the first time during this Parliament:

Mark Harper MP pointed out:

“there is no exit strategy”, and asked “why should people at home…do things that people working in Number 10 Downing Street are not prepared to do?” 

The Spectator‘s Kate Andrews also noted the same thing, comparing the content of December 8’s press conference with the others that had preceded it. The Government and scientific advisers have made many poor contradictions and bad comparisons between the UK with a strongly vaccinated population versus one like South Africa’s:

The Spectator contrasts what our scientific experts from SAGE put forward compared with the real statistics. SAGE have a lot of explaining to do, yet Boris continues to court their shamefully extreme modelling.

Guido’s December 9 poll of the public shows that they are increasingly concerned about scope creep, especially with regard to Plan B:

Guido’s post reveals who led the press (‘lobby’) briefing that day. It was not the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC):

A poll of 3,170 Guido readers opened earlier has less than one-in-seven believing the government’s timing of Plan B yesterday was based on epidemiological reasons, and not politics.

Guido can’t say he’s surprised. Sources suggest that while a quad meeting was always scheduled for yesterday afternoon, Plan B was not on the table. During the morning the briefings were coming from Downing Street not DHSC, further suggesting the move was more politically than epidemiologically motivated.

William Wragg MP was the first to notice the political end to Plan B — a diversion from the Christmas party debacle — and actually challenged Boris on it last Wednesday at PMQs, only hours before the press conference. Tom Newton Dunn tweeted:

Senior Tory William Wragg challenges Johnson directly during PMQs over if he’s bringing in Plan B today, and says “few will be fooled by this diversionary tactic”. Johnson doesn’t deny, but says: “No decisions will be taken without consulting the Cabinet”.

It would have been even better if Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the Opposition had said that, but, alas, he’s all on board with further restrictions. If he were Prime Minister, we would have never had Freedom Day on Monday, July 19. We would have been where Scotland and Wales continue to be, still restricted in many ways, with compulsory masks and vaccine passports.

On Monday evening, December 13, Sir Keir somehow got media outlets to televise his support for Plan B. The reason for this baffles me, as he is not in Government.

It does appear as if we have a coalition Conservative-Labour government, because the latter jumps on every coronavirus restriction bandwagon going. The Sun‘s Trevor Kavanagh told Nigel Farage that this is not a good thing:

According to a GB News poll for Dan Wootton Tonight, the public strongly disapprove of Plan B:

Sadly, we now have Plan B in England: face coverings in enclosed spaces, vaccine passports for large venues/events and mandatory vaccines for NHS/care home staff by April 2022. Self-isolation with daily testing was approved unanimously; there was no division on that motion.

The question remains: do we get another lockdown, i.e. Plan C, in the New Year?

Boris wouldn’t dare, would he?

Friday’s post provided the background to the current turmoil in Boris Johnson’s Government.

This is where we left off — a GB News tweet from November 22, before further events occurred:

The Christmas party — or parties

Last week, news emerged of an alleged Christmas party held on December 18, 2020, at No. 10 Downing Street.

Somehow, it took most of 12 months for this news to appear.

It surfaced with a video of Allegra Stratton, who was rehearsing for her new — ultimately unfulfilled — role as a televised press secretary, although she did remain press secretary.

On Tuesday, December 7, ITV News was able to obtain this video of her rehearsing for a press conference involving a fictitious Christmas party. The press corps are senior No. 10 employees:

According to this rehearsal, which Stratton did not take too seriously, we are looking at a party that never took place.

However, when one watches the video, one wonders: did it or did it not happen?

Allegra Stratton laughed and slumped over the podium. Hardly a professional look.

The Sun reported (emphases mine):

Senior members of the PM’s top team were filmed laughing and referring to “cheese and wine” in a mock press conference held by Allegra Stratton in the No9 briefing room …

In footage of the fake presser, obtained by ITV, one of the PM’s advisers asked: “I’ve just seen reports on Twitter that there was a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night, do you recognise those reports?”

Ms Stratton joked: “I went home!” before she paused to consider how to respond.

The aide added: “Would the prime minister condone having a Christmas party?”

Ms Stratton, who was due to lead daily political press briefings in the £2.5million press room before the plan was ditched earlier this year, laughed and replied: “what’s the answer?”

Another No10 staffer popped up to say: “It wasn’t a party, it was cheese and wine.”

Ms Stratton added: “Is cheese and wine alright? It was a business meeting…”

Business meetings were allowed under the restrictions at that time, as The Times explains:

People were allowed to gather if it was reasonably necessary for work purposes, but that would not have included holding a party.

The government’s advice from the time said: “Although there are exemptions for work purposes, you must not have a work Christmas lunch or party, where that is a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted by the rules in your tier.”

The Telegraph‘s Christopher ‘Chopper’ Hope reported that Downing Street might have been exempt from the party rule because it was a Crown property. However, Guido Fawkes pointed out that the Queen wore a mask earlier this year at Prince Philip’s funeral on the grounds of Windsor Castle:

No. 10 responded to the Christmas party allegations. ITV News’s UK Editor Paul Brand tweeted:

By Thursday, December 9, 2021, The Times revealed a catalogue of seven Christmas parties allegedly taking place in or near Downing Street last year during a time when London was, for the most part, under lockdown.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

The Times reports:

Insiders said that the No 10 Christmas party on December 18 began early, with officials and political advisers gathering in the press office shortly after 6pm.

Over the course of the evening some people made speeches, enjoyed a cheese board, drank together and exchanged Secret Santa gifts. By the time it ended shortly before 2am, several of those present were said to be “rat-arsed”.

A few rooms away Boris Johnson was working in his office, where after consulting once more with government scientists, he was coming to a critical realisation that Christmas, as planned, could no longer go ahead. Less than 24 hours later the prime minister broke the news that millions of people could not see friends and family over the festive period if they lived in other households

At the time London was under Tier 3 restrictions, banning indoor mixing with a narrow exemption for people whose jobs required them to be at work in the office. Was Johnson aware of the event, which included some of his most senior aides and was held yards from his office? …

The Christmas party, however, was different. A source said it had been organised days in advance on WhatsApp and with a follow-up email.

Originally it was intended for members of the press office who work together in the same large room on the ground floor …

It was not, they said, a party that had been organised by senior members of staff or indeed political special advisers. But in the close world of Downing Street some members of Johnson’s media team were also invited. The most senior members were understood to be involved in the preparations for the impending new Christmas restrictions.

Other parties were alleged to have taken place:

At another point in December, sources say, a Christmas quiz was held for officials and Conservative advisers working in Downing Street. Invitations were sent out by email, with people asked to organise themselves into teams of about six. Many wore novelty Christmas jumpers on the day. One source said that the quiz took place in the “control centre” established in 70 Whitehall by Dominic Cummings, who had left his role as one of Johnson’s most senior advisers in November. Another source said that people stayed late drinking, and that there was much discussion the next day about the unexpectedly strong knowledge displayed by the victors.

No 10 sources were adamant that the quiz was “entirely virtual”, and denied that it took place in 70 Whitehall, but conceded that some people may have participated from desks in communal offices

One party allegedly took place at Conservative Party headquarters in central London:

Another event took place at CCHQ a few days before the Christmas party. At least two dozen party aides and volunteers, who had helped Shaun Bailey, the Tories’ London mayoral candidate, held a “raucous” bash involving drinking, Christmas hats and dancing that went on late into the night. Things were said to have got so rowdy that a door was damaged. London was in Tier 2 restrictions, with a ban on indoor mixing and the rule of six applying outdoors.

Some parties allegedly took place in November 2020:

Government staff are also said to have held informal leaving dos in November, when England was in a full lockdown, to mark the departures of the senior Downing Street aides Lee Cain and Cleo Watson. Christmas parties were also held at the Cabinet Office and the Department for Education.

Those are the seven alleged parties.

The timing of this leak could not have been worse for the Government.

At PMQs on Wednesday, December 8, Boris insisted that the Cabinet Secretary Simon Case would investigate the alleged December 18 party, which was the only known one at the time.

This is how he responded to Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer at the despatch box:

… I apologise for the impression that has been given that staff in Downing Street take this less than seriously. I am sickened myself and furious about that, but I repeat what I have said to him: I have been repeatedly assured that the rules were not broken

I have asked the Cabinet Secretary to investigate exactly what happened, and I repeat that there will be consequences for those involved if the rules were broken.

I have been repeatedly assured that no rules were broken. I understand public anxiety about this and I understand public indignation, but there is a risk of doing a grave injustice to people who were, frankly, obeying the rules. That is why the Cabinet Secretary will be conducting an investigation and that is why there will be the requisite disciplinary action if necessary.

Starmer brought up the story of a woman who died in hospital over Christmas and her aggrieved daughter who was not allowed to see her because of coronavirus restrictions.

Boris responded:

The first thing to say is that, in common with everybody in this House, I extend my sympathies to Trisha and her family. I understand the pain of everybody who has suffered throughout this pandemic.

I know the implication that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is trying to draw: that the case that we are now investigating should somehow undermine public confidence in the measures that we are taking. I think that is the point he is trying to make, but I say to him that I think it is a great mistake to try to play politics with this issue, and I think that is what he is doing. I do not think the public do want to see confidence in the measures undermined. We are taking—[Interruption.] I think they can see the difference. We are taking the steps necessary to protect the public, above all by rolling out the vaccinations. Rather than focusing on the events of a year ago, that is what we are focusing on and that is what I think the public will understand.

On the one hand, one could say that this is still a sour grapes ploy to get Boris, who got Brexit done.

On the other hand, The Times reported that the news caused some Cabinet ministers and backbench Conservative MPs to distance themselves from the allegations, especially as they were not directly involved with the events:

On Tuesday Sajid Javid, the health secretary, volunteered to do a broadcast round the next day to push the booster campaign. After a video was leaked in which Allegra Stratton, then a spokeswoman for Johnson, joked about the party, Javid is said to have made clear he would not defend the No 10 position.

One minister told The Times that the talk in the Commons tea room was of more letters of no confidence in Johnson going into Sir Graham Brady, the leader of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs. They said that the party looks “divided, hypocritical, out-of-control, out-of-touch and all the other things that voters despise”

A succession of Conservatives went on the record with concerns. Douglas Ross, the leader of the Scottish Tories, suggested that Johnson should quit if it emerged that he knew about the party.

This is how some members of the public view the revelations. As seen last week by someone in England:

https://image.vuukle.com/f3eecb08-251a-4488-8ed6-566c515e74f7-f700773f-e508-4cce-b35d-f69a6d3b47e4

Allegra Stratton’s resignation

Allegra Stratton, who appeared so insouciant a year earlier, tendered her resignation shortly after PMQs on Wednesday, December 8.

Tearful — or almost — she gave a brief statement to the press that afternoon:

Guido Fawkes quotes part of her statement:

My remarks seemed to make light of the rules, rules that people were doing everything to obey. That was never my intention. I will regret those remarks for the rest of my days and offer my profound apologies to all of you for them

[…]

To all of you who lost loved ones, endured intolerable loneliness and struggled with your business – I am truly sorry and this afternoon I have offered my resignation to Prime Minister.

This woman is media savvy and has a lot of important connections, shall we say. She’ll get another job somewhere else by the New Year, most probably:

Allegra Stratton’s televised daily press briefings, mimicking those of the White House, never saw the light of day. One wonders if someone informed on her after the aforementioned December 2020 dress rehearsal video:

She was never very good in No. 10, as our COP26 spokesperson, having explained at length why she didn’t own an electric car and why people should join the Green Party! What planet is she on?

Further coronavirus restrictions for England

On the day of her resignation, the Daily Mail reported that No. 10 was desperately searching for the person who leaked Stratton’s rehearsal video to ITV News.

But that was not all. Their article said that, in order to take the heat off the Christmas party story, Boris put England under Plan B — further coronavirus restrictions (masks, vaccine passports, travel quarantine) — in light of the Omicron variant, which he did on Wednesday, December 8, a few hours after PMQs and Allegra Stratton’s resignation. What was — is — he thinking?

Within 24 hours of its broadcast, the toxic footage of No 10 staff giggling about a lockdown-busting party had detonated a bomb under the Government and led to the tearful resignation of its ‘star’ Allegra Stratton.

It also sparked an immediate hunt for the leaker, whose decision to pass the film to ITV News may even have prompted Boris Johnson to fast-track plans for tighter Covid restrictions.

So, Boris might have a Christmas party scandal on his hands from last year, therefore, in order to rectify that with the largest swathe of the British public — those living in England — he puts them under Plan B just before Christmas.

How is that a future vote winner?

Furthermore, Boris did not present the initiation of Plan B to Parliament first, which he should do. He had Health Secretary Sajid Javid present it to Parliament at the same time he was giving a press conference to the nation about it.

Wrong!

According to Parliamentary procedure, MPs must be allowed to debate and, if necessary, vote on these proposals before they are made public or enacted into law.

However, Boris has been doing this consistently since 2020 with coronavirus restrictions.

These restrictions will be in place by Monday, December 13. The Parliamentary debate and vote do not take place until Tuesday, December 14. Outrageous.

Omicron relatively weak, yet we have Plan B

As far as we know, Omicron is relatively mild:

Guido points out that the Government is going overboard about a variant whose symptoms resemble a common cold (emphasis in the original):

As the UK government hits the ‘Plan B’ button in a moment of epidemiological stringency, in the past 24 hours both the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the EU Medicine Agency have both said cases remain mild.

15 hours ago the CDC Chief said that of the more-than-40 people in the US have been infected with Omicron, “nearly all of them were only mildly ill” and the “the disease is mild”. Just one person’s been hospitalised.

… Meanwhile the UK government is preparing to hit the UK economy with a stay-at-home order, based on no hospitalisation or death data suggesting it’s necessary.

In his press conference last Wednesday annoucing Plan B, to make things worse, Boris also said that we need to have ‘a national conversation’ as to whether the UK should implement mandatory vaccinations!

On December 9, The Telegraph‘s Andrew Lilico wrote (emphases mine):

… Omicron cases are currently doubling every two to two and a half days. Wearing a face mask in the cinema but not the pub isn’t going to make a lot of difference to that.

If omicron is really going to grow as explosively as the Government suggests, Plan B isn’t going to come remotely close to slowing it down or stopping it. Restricting people’s lives in a way that makes no difference whatever to a problem is just as authoritarian as restricting people’s lives when there is no problem at all. If the only point of restrictions is as a kind of virtual flag with “We’re doing something” written on it, it’d be better not to restrict people’s lives but instead to raise a literal physical flag saying that, outside 10 Downing Street …

There needs to be a high likelihood that some disaster will follow if restrictions are not imposed and a good chance that the restrictions would avert or at least mitigate that disaster.

The Government does not appear to believe it needs such a rationale. It seems to think that it’s legitimate to restrict millions of people’s lives on bases such as “on balance, that’s wise” or “to reduce pressure on the NHS” (not to avoid its collapse – just to make life a bit easier). That is a serious departure that MPs of good conscience should vote against. Otherwise it would be legitimate to introduce a curfew every evening to “reduce pressure on the police” or restrictions every time a new flu strain is identified “just in case” it might lead to a pandemic

We did our bit. We got vaccinated. That has meant that, since April, the infection fatality rate of Covid has only been perhaps 3 to 4 times that of flu. Covid will be with us forever, killing tens of thousands each year. But since April it has never again been possible for it to create the waves of 100,000 and more deaths at a time that we experienced last Winter and that would have been much worse had we not accepted restrictions from last Spring onwards.

… Everyone in the country was going to get delta over the next couple of years, as our immunity faded, unless we were willing to get boosters every few months forever. Why does it matter if we get omicron this Christmas instead? A vague sense that “Something must be done. This is Something. So let’s do This.” is not even close to an adequate basis on which to let Plan B proceed.

On Sunday evening, December 12, Boris gave a brief recorded address to those in the UK saying that there has been a ‘surge’ of hospital cases and that the coronavirus danger level has been ramped up to Stage 4 throughout the four nations. Again, he and his ministers just decided this with no input from MPs:

In a nutshell, this appears to be what is happening with Government policy and the media on Omicron:

That morning, Dr Susan Hopkins of the UK [England, actually] Health Security Agency was still among those experts waiting for something to happen with Omicron:

UPDATEMonday, December 13: One patient in the UK has died ‘with’ Omicron.

Sadly, the Government and their scientists will consider that a success.

————————————————————————-

People living in England wonder whether Plan B will proceed to another full lockdown in 2022 as punishment for celebrating Christmas.

On Friday, December 10, The Telegraph‘s Julia Samuel said that, in light of the Christmas party allegations, the Government no longer has the moral authority to impose yet another lockdown:

It seems almost inconceivable and yet it’s not. We could be headed for another lockdown, probably just after Christmas. No one really believes that the measures announced by Boris Johnson this week will stop the new Covid variant from spreading. The private reasoning of the officials recommending them and the ministers agreeing to them is that they need to prepare the public psychologically for the possibility of going back into lockdown

They might tell us to stay at home, but they don’t. They might have told us not to party, but Number 10 staffers clearly judged that since they had worked together in close quarters for weeks, a party couldn’t really hurt. What stinks is not the logic of this decision; it’s the rank hypocrisy of legislating for one thing and then doing another.

If the Government is considering another lockdown, then it needs to understand that it has exhausted consent for the type of policy it could enact before. It has no moral authority to ban fathers from being with their wives during childbirth or to confine people to their houses because an app says they shared a bus ride with a Covid case. If we are told to stay at home, it can only be conditional upon our nearest and dearest social obligations. If that makes enforcement difficult, so be it. Policing this mess fairly has been a fool’s errand from the start …

With any luck, this will all end up with a dramatic anti-climax. Scientists are starting to sound increasingly confident that omicron hails Covid’s transformation from a threat to a common cold.

By Christmas, we will know the score. But in the meantime, let’s recognise the government’s half-hearted and ineffective Covid measures for what they are: the start of a campaign to soften us up for another lockdown, if it’s deemed necessary.

If that is what’s coming down the track, we need to be clear: some things are too important to be sacrificed to Covid controls. The Government ought to recognise that and use the law sparingly.

But if it doesn’t, people will have to use their own judgement and make decisions they can live with afterwards. We would only be following Number 10’s example, after all.

Who can argue with that?

In Parliament, a rebellion has been brewing over the past week on coronavirus legislation. Although protest votes will not prevent Plan B from passing, they will send a signal to No. 10 that a growing number of Conservative backbench MPs are deeply unhappy.

More on that tomorrow.

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